Understanding Hearing Aids
Whether or not you've used a hearing aid in the past, you might be surprised by what the latest digital models offer these days. Like other electronics, hearing aids have gotten smaller, and have more features and power packed into them. In this article, we'll explain what makes modern, digital hearing aids better than previous generations of hearing aids. And, we’ll explain how you can buy a hearing aid online, without leaving your house.
Hearing Aid Terminology
If you have used a hearing aid before, you're probably familiar with the terminology used to describe hearing aids. If not, here’s a quick list of features and descriptions you might hear while researching hearing aids:
- Behind the ear (BTE): The classic hearing aid shape. BTE hearing aids rest on the back of the ear, with tubing connecting the body to the ear tip.
- In the ear (ITE): A very compact hearing aid. ITE hearing aids fit mostly in the ear canal, with controls still accessible.
- Tubing: A clear, flexible tube that connects the body of the hearing aid with the ear tip. Larger tubing allows more sound through, while slimmer tubing is very hard to see.
- Ear tip: A small dome- or cone-shaped part that fits snugly inside the ear canal and connects to the tubing (BTE) or the hearing aid (ITE).
- Custom mold: An ear tip that is molded and created specifically for a person's ear.
- Hearing aid battery: Tiny batteries used to power hearing aids. They typically come in 4 sizes (color coded) - #10 (yellow), #13 (orange), #312 (brown), #675 (blue).
- Battery tab: A small strip stuck to each battery to assist in holding and placing the battery.
- Battery holder (door): A small plastic tray with a hinge that holds the battery. Usually, opening the battery door turns off the device, and closing it turns on the device.
- Programming: When a hearing aid specialist adjusts a hearing aid's software, it's referred to as programming.
- Fitting: When a hearing aid specialist uses someone's specific hearing qualities to adjust a device, it's called fitting. Most people equate the word "fitting" with the placement of the device on or in the ear. In hearing aids, fitting is inclusive of that as well as the custom programming.
- Analog Hearing Aids: Older hearing aid technology that simply passed sound through its circuits - all sound was treated the same.
- Digital Hearing Aids: Current hearing aid technology that uses intelligent technology to "understand" sounds coming in and adjust to them accordingly.
Changes in Technology
Generation by generation, we continue to look for new ways to improve our hearing. Ears are naturally shaped like cones, which catch sound waves and funnel them into the inner ear. There, our brain makes sense of the signals. If you've ever cupped your hand behind your ear to hear a little better, you've used a hearing aid.
The "ear trumpet" was widely used before portable electronics were available. This hearing device looked like a straightened-out trumpet or bugle, and worked slightly better than cupped hands.
The "otophone" was a modified ear trumpet. The earpiece looked like part of a telephone, but with a horn attached. Both the otophone and the ear trumpet assisted hearing by using a bigger cone to funnel sound to the ear. However, they had to be pointed in the direction of the sound to be effective.
Modern Digital Hearing Aids
Over time, electronic amplification was introduced. The initial devices had long cables that went from the ear to a large, belt-worn battery pack for power. Decades later, the battery pack got smaller, and eventually, everything fit into one device.
Early BTE hearing aids were still quite big, and very visible when worn. As electronic circuitry continued to shrink and manufacturing became more efficient, hearing aids got smaller.
More importantly, the technology made the jump from analog to digital.
Digital hearing aids use technology to make adjustments to sounds as they occur. The microphones can be directional, and the technology knows how to properly adjust from what could be a soft voice to the loud sound of dishes clanking. Sometimes amplification of higher-frequencies is the best solution, or sometimes it’s a “low-cut” (removing loud, lower-frequency sounds). These adjustments occur automatically and make sounds as natural as they’ve ever been, in the smallest devices yet.
Changes in Federal Law
Before 2018, to buy a hearing aid, you were required to visit a doctor or provide a medical waiver. Since then, the FDA has heard from us and other hearing professionals about the number of individuals suffering from hearing loss. About 48 million people in the United States have some kind of hearing loss, but most don’t address it.
Sure, some don’t want to ask for help, and others let vanity get in the way of better hearing. But, the cost is a big part of it, too. Between seeing a doctor and paying their markup, hearing aids typically cost $2300 - for one ear! Worse yet, most insurance plans won’t cover them.
The FDA agreed that too many people were not getting the help they needed. So, they removed the medical waiver requirement. Now, you can buy a hearing aid anywhere in the US. (For more information, read this: How to Buy Hearing Aids Online.) That includes online shops like Hearing Help Express.
The Future of Hearing Aids
As a manufacturer of affordable hearing aids, it’s an exciting time. Our goal remains to offer high-quality hearing aids at prices that anyone can afford. As technology continues to improve, we continue to update our hearing aids as well.
In the coming year, we will be adding more and more connectivity and control. We will have hearing aids that can connect wirelessly to a companion microphone. With this setup, you’ll be able to place a microphone near a friend at dinner and hear them clearly.
We’ll add wireless remote controls. These will allow you to adjust your hearing aid without taking it off or using a mirror to find the onboard controls. We’re also rolling out a smartphone app that will allow you to make adjustments to your hearing aids from your phone, or contact our Hearing Health Advisers from anywhere.
Who knows what might come next? Leave a comment to let us know what innovations you’re looking forward to in the next generation of hearing aids. And get in touch if you have questions about any of our current hearing aids, batteries, or accessories. Hear you later!